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Myth and the 'Now' Part Seven: More Archetypes

Continuing from yesterday's article:

The Shadow Protagonist

This figure also appears across the whole range of fiction: he or she is like the protagonist, but with different choices made.

Think Bentley Drummle and Orlick in Great Expectations; Darth Vader in Star Wars; Gollum in The Lord of the Rings; Mordred in the tales of Arthur. These are often the assistants of antagonists, lurking in the darkness like brutal versions of the hero or heroine.

The Antagonist

These go almost without saying as one of the major archetypes in fiction. You will have thought of several before I can finish this sentence: Sauron, Voldemort, Morgana Le Fay, Emperor Palpatine, Steerpike, and a thousand more.

The Comic Companion

There’s also a comic companion, virtually the same figure from tale to tale, or fulfilling the same function.

Sam in The Lord of the Rings, has remarkable similarities to Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird, or Piglet in Winnie the Pooh, or Herbert in Great Expectations, or Ron in Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, or R2-D2 and C-Threepio in Star Wars, or the porter in Macbeth. Why are these figures there? Why are they so alike?

One standard answer is 'to provide comic relief'. But the real answer, the universal answer, is that there is an archetypal function to fulfil here.

The Female Companion

There is a further archetype, a controversial one because of the connection to gender. This is best seen through examples:

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, is a prototype of the romantic novel. Here, Lizzy, potentially a tragic figure, ends up overcoming her inner need and is fulfilled, marrying Darcy at the end.

Jane in Jane Eyre, on the other hand, walks around the novel much like a living vacuum for most of the story, but there’s a deeper female ‘gap’ or vacuum lurking upstairs in the mad wife, and (though it almost sounds like a lewd joke) Jane’s vacuum is eventually filled by Rochester.

Cathy in Wuthering Heights, ends up unwell, dead and then a ghost - haunting the moors as a phantom.

In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth ends up walking, empty of soul, in her sleep and then committing suicide; in Hamlet, Ophelia loses her mind and also throws her own life away; in Great Expectations, Miss Havisham is a hollow ghost and Estella an emotionless shell.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? It’s elaborated upon in How Stories Really Work.

To grasp what is going on here, we have to put aside the idea that a character in a work of fiction is a creature designed to reflect reality in terms of appearing lifelike and 'real' to readers, and instead think of characters as constructions made of vacuums, as is further explained in How Stories Really Work.

The Warrior Figure

Obvious as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, or Hans Solo in Star Wars, less obvious as Fielding in A Passage to India or Sirius Black in Harry Potter, the warrior figure has some common traits too across the world of fiction. Warrior figures tend to start off as duplicitous - they are presented to the reader as potentially villainous, not quite to be trusted, shadowy. This ambiguity is their characteristic quality.

That uncertainty about them is of course a vacuum, a gap, an unknown.

In Comedies and Epics they often emerge as the love interests for the female figures - examples abound, including Darcy and Captain Wentworth in Austen’s novels, who begin somewhat overshadowed but who are redeemed by their heroines later.

In Tragedies and Ironies, these warrior types are often the 'heroic' counterparts to the anti-heroic protagonists: Laertes to Hamlet, Malcolm to Macbeth, Boo Radley to Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird, Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules Winnfield to John Travolta’s Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

They eventually shake off the suggestions of duality, though. Their vacuums are filled and they become kings, generals or leaders, doers, men of action and command.

It is Aragorn who wins the military side of the War of the Ring, Hans Solo who rescues Luke, Fielding who stands up against British injustice in the trial of Adela, Sirius Black who commands power in Harry Potter.

Darcy loses his pride and becomes a mover of events; Boo Radley comes out of hiding to save the children; Jules Winnfield rejects his criminal background and decides to 'walk the earth'.

So these characters we have become accustomed to call warrior figures are figures in transition and move out of their vacuums in the course of a wide variety of fiction.

As is further described in How Stories Really Work, the whole world of 'character-driven fiction' is here: reader attention pulled along by vacuums within archetypal figures.

The Old Man with the Stick

The old man with a stick is a major archetype. This figure ranges from Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, the Doctor in Doctor Who, and so on, right the way through to their Tragic, Ironic or Comedic reflections, like Jaggers in Great Expectations, Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol, Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life, or Doc Smith in Back to the Future.

All of them play the role of outlining the story of which they area part and guiding the protagonist onward:

• Gandalf reveals the history of the One Ring which sets the story in motion

• Dumbledore outlines the tasks that Harry must accomplish

• Obi Wan sets out the nature of the quest for Luke and his companions

• the Doctor in Doctor Who always sees the main issue and a way through to the conclusion of each episode’s plot

• Jaggers in Great Expectations lays out the law, literally, which moves Pip forward

• Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol, outlines the challenge faced by Scrooge

• Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life creates the ‘vacuum’ of George’s vanishment which is the central core of the plot

• Doc Smith in Back to the Future similarly drives the story into action plot-wise.

They are the main expositors; we turn to them for an idea of what the plot is going to be about.

All right, so we’ve met these figures in one way or another in almost every major story that we have ever read or heard of. But there is so much more to them. I’ve presented them here in a rather random way. If I rearrange that order slightly, you will begin to see the beginnings of that ‘conceptual flow’ That I mentioned earlier:

Wise Old Man

Comic Companion

Warrior Companion


Female Companion

Shadow Protagonist


This is their ‘correct’ sequence. What do I mean? Well, let’s reduce them to concepts and replace them with those concepts:

Wise Old Man/Wisdom

Comic Companion/Freedom

Warrior Companion/Emergence


Female Companion/Submergence

Shadow Protagonist/Subservience


And that relates to our earlier little chart:

Pole # 1

Close to Pole # 1

Equidistant from either Pole

Close to Pole # 2

Pole # 2

Now we are starting to get somewhere…though perhaps you may not think so, just yet.

Stay tuned for more soon.

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